Celebrity chef and Del Mar resident Richard Blais will open Ember & Rye restaurant in Carlsbad
Park Hyatt Aviara’s former Argyle Steakhouse will retain old-fashioned touches to honor loyal local diners
For many years, celebrity chef Richard Blais has been dogged by the nickname of “the guy with the liquid nitrogen tank.”
During two seasons on Bravo’s “Top Chef” series, the Del Mar resident became well-known for using molecular gastronomy techniques like the freezing liquid in his season-winning dishes. But that was a decade ago and Blais hopes that his latest local restaurant project, Ember & Rye at the Park Hyatt Aviara, better reflects where he is as a chef today.
Slated to open in March, if public health orders allow outdoor dining by then, Ember & Rye is replacing the resort’s 30-year-old Argyle Steakhouse, which overlooks the 18th hole of the resort’s golf course on the north shore of Batiquitos Lagoon.
Blais said the new restaurant will serve the simpler, less-fussy food he cooks at home for his wife, Jazmin, and their daughters Embry and Riley, whose names inspired Ember & Rye.
Unlike Juniper & Ivy, the contemporary cuisine fine-dining restaurant that Blais helped launch seven years ago in Little Italy, Ember & Rye will have a classic, old-school approach to cooking and service that’s more relaxed in style.
The new restaurant will have vintage-inspired decor, steaks cooked on an outdoor wood-fired grill, signature dishes that don’t change from month to month, a trolley cart for tableside food prep and, possibly, a weekly prime rib night. The restaurant will also offer lunch service.
“What I do is perceived as fine dining, but I love cooking someone a hamburger and fries and cracking open a beer for them,” Blais said. “There will be salt and pepper on the table so people can season their own steaks. I don’t care if people ask for their steaks well done. I don’t care if people want a gallon of ranch dressing, and we’re not going to be making our own ketchup.”
This news may please loyal local diners who made up more than 50 percent of year-round sales at Argyle, which never declined in popularity but was due for a refresh as part of Park Hyatt’s recent $50 million renovation, said Geoff Gray, the resort’s general manager. The Argyle interior was gutted for a full interior renovation that keeps the old bones of the building but gives the space a more colorful, contemporary look.
Ember & Rye has 8,500 square feet of indoor space, plus 5,000 square feet of wraparound patio facing the lagoon and golf course, for a total of 266 seats. Argyle’s old library area is being turned into a bar area with 77 seats, indoors and out. The room’s centerpiece will be a custom-designed J-shaped bar with a built-in snack counter, where a chef will be stationed to prepare tapas, sandwiches, fresh oysters and other quick-prep food items for bar patrons. The bar will specialize in serving hard-to-find and private-label whiskeys and bourbons.
There are two large dining rooms and a private dining room that seats up to 14. On the building’s east patio, a Santa Maria-style wood grill will be used to cook beef, seafood and other entrees while diners watch.
Since Blais moved on from Juniper & Ivy a few years ago, he has been traveling more for appearances on television and at festivals and culinary events. That has meant a lot more nights spent in resort hotels, where he has picked up a new appreciation for playing golf. So when Park Hyatt reached out to him about opening a signature restaurant in the Argyle space, he was intrigued — particularly because the resort is so close to his home.
“This will be my home away from home,” he said of the restaurant. “The only place people will be able to find me in San Diego will be here.”
Since the pandemic began, Blais has spent much of the past year working from home, where he’s been developing recipes for the new restaurant in his kitchen and on his backyard grill and smoker. A TikTok video of him testing out one of his latest creations — an Ember & Rye onion ring fried in the style of a rosette doughnut — has racked up more than 2.2 million views.
Ember & Rye won’t have its own steak-aging program, but it will carry a wide selection of beef. It will also serve a selection of fresh seafood, land proteins and specialty produce from local growers, like Girl & Dug Farm in San Marcos. While he’s looking forward to creating a number of steak sauces in-house, he plans to change up the traditional steakhouse side dishes. Instead of a classic baked potato, diners can order a baked celery root, and creamed corn will be replaced by corn crème brûlée. He’s not planning to offer a chef’s table with a long, multicourse gourmet dinner for a small group of guests. But he’s open to the idea of offering a smaller prix-fixe dinner option.
Blais spent a couple months last fall in Portland, Ore., where he served as one of the main judges during filming of the 18th season of “Top Chef.” Because of the pandemic, all of the contestants, judges and production crew quarantined together in lockdown. He thinks the new season will likely air in the spring.
Blais said he’s come a long way as a chef since he won “Top Chef: All-Stars” in 2011, and he thinks the pandemic has also changed the way a lot of Americans are eating. He thinks Ember & Rye will be a good fit for what diners want as they return to restaurants this year.
“We see this contributing to the next evolution of the dining scene in North County,” Blais said. “We’re creating a vibe that it will be an easy and fun place to be.”
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